[The following is a speech against stale, lifeless pronouncements utilizing decrepit and vacuous language delivered by Mao, February 8th, 1942. Credit to marxists.org for source.]
Comrade Kai-feng has just stated the purpose of today’s meeting. I now want to discuss the ways subjectivism and sectarianism use stereotyped Party writing (or the Party “eight-legged essay”)  as their instrument of propaganda or form of expression. We are fighting against subjectivism and sectarianism, but they will still have a hiding-place to lurk in if at the same time we do not get rid of stereotyped Party writing. If we destroy that too, we shall “checkmate” subjectivism and sectarianism and make both these monsters show themselves in their true colours, and then we shall easily be able to annihilate them, like “rats running across the street with everyone yelling: Kill them! Kill them!”
It does not matter much if a person produces stereotyped Party writings only for himself to read. If he passes them on to someone else, the number of readers is doubled, and already no small harm is done. If he has them posted up, mimeographed, printed in newspapers or published in book form, then the problem becomes indeed a big one, for they can influence many people. And those who produce stereotyped Party writing always seek large audiences. Thus it has become imperative to expose and destroy it.
Stereotyped Party writing is, moreover, one brand of the “foreign stereotype”, which was attacked by Lu Hsun a long time ago. Why then do we call it the Party “eight-legged essay”? Because, besides its foreign flavour, it has some smell of native soil. Perhaps it too can be counted as creative work of a sort! Who says our people have not produced any creative works? Here is one! (Loud laughter.)
Stereotyped Party writing has a long history in our Party; particularly during the Agrarian Revolution, it sometimes became quite rampant.
Viewed historically, stereotyped Party writing is a reaction to the May 4th Movement.
During the May 4th Movement, modern-minded people opposed the use of the classical Chinese language and advocated vernacular Chinese, opposed the traditional dogmas and advocated science and democracy, all of which was quite right. The movement then was vigorous and lively, progressive and revolutionary. In those days the ruling classes indoctrinated students with Confucian teachings and compelled the people to venerate all the trappings of Confucianism as religious dogma, and all writers used the classical language. In short, what was written and taught by the ruling classes and their hangers-on was in the nature of stereotyped writing and dogma, both in content and in form. That was the old stereotype and the old dogma. A tremendous achievement of the May 4th Movement was its public exposure of the ugliness of the old stereotype and the old dogma and its call to the people to rise against them. Another great and related achievement was its fight against imperialism, but the struggle against the old stereotype and the old dogma remains one of the great achievements of the May 4th Movement. Later on, however, foreign stereotyped writing and foreign dogma came into being. Running counter to Marxism, certain people in our Party developed the foreign stereotype and dogma into subjectivism, sectarianism and stereotyped Party writing. These are the new stereotype and the new dogma. They have become so deeply ingrained in the minds of many comrades that today we still have a very strenuous job of remoulding to do. Thus we see that the lively, vigorous, progressive and revolutionary movement of the May 4th period which fought the old feudal stereotyped writing and dogma was later turned by some people into its very opposite, giving rise to the new stereotyped writing and dogma. The latter are not lively and vigorous but dead and stiff, not progressive but retrogressive, not revolutionary but obstacles to revolution. That is to say, the foreign stereotyped writing, or stereotyped Party writing, is a reaction to the original nature of the May 4th Movement. The May 4th Movement, however, had its own weaknesses. Many of the leaders lacked the critical spirit of Marxism, and the method they used was generally that of the bourgeoisie, that is, the formalist method. They were quite right in opposing the old stereotype and the old dogma and in advocating science and democracy. But in dealing with current conditions, with history, and with things foreign, they lacked the critical spirit of historical materialism and regarded what was bad as absolutely and wholly bad and what was good as absolutely and wholly good. This formalist approach to problems affected the subsequent course of the movement. In its development, the May 4th Movement divided into two currents. One section inherited its scientific and democratic spirit and transformed it on the basis of Marxism; this is what the Communists and some non-Party Marxists did. Another section took the road of the bourgeoisie; this was the development of formalism towards the Right. But within the Communist Party too the situation was not uniform; there, too, some members deviated and, lacking a firm grasp of Marxism, committed errors of formalism, namely, the errors of subjectivism, sectarianism and stereotyped Party writing. This was the development of formalism towards the “Left”. So it can be seen that stereotyped Party writing is no accident, but is, on the one hand, a reaction to the positive elements of the May 4th Movement and, on the other, a legacy, a continuation or development of its negative elements. It is useful for us to understand this point. Just as it was revolutionary and necessary to fight the old stereotyped writing and the old dogmatism during the period of the May 4th Movement, so it is revolutionary and necessary today for us to use Marxism to criticize the new stereotyped writing and the new dogmatism. If there had been no fight against the old stereotype and the old dogmatism during the May 4th period, the minds of the Chinese people would not have been freed from bondage to them, and China would have no hope of freedom and independence. This task was merely begun in the period of the May 4th Movement, and a very great effort–a huge job of work on the road of revolutionary remoulding–is still necessary to enable the whole people to free themselves completely from the domination of the old stereotype and dogmatism. If today we do not oppose the new stereotyped writing and the new dogmatism, the minds of the Chinese people will be fettered by formalism of another kind. If we do not get rid of the poison of stereotyped Party writing and the error of dogmatism found among a section (only a section, of course) of Party comrades, then it will be impossible to arouse a vigorous and lively revolutionary spirit, to eradicate the bad habit of taking a wrong attitude towards Marxism and to disseminate and develop true Marxism; furthermore, it will be impossible to conduct an energetic struggle against the influence of the old stereotyped writing and dogma among the whole people, and against that of foreign stereotyped among many of the people, and impossible to attain the purpose of demolishing and sweeping away these influences.
Subjectivism, sectarianism and stereotyped Party writing–all three are anti-Marxist and meet the needs not of the proletariat but of the exploiting classes. They are a reflection of petty-bourgeois ideology in our Party. China is a country with a very large petty bourgeoisie and our Party is surrounded by this enormous class; a great number of our Party members come from this class, and when they join the Party they inevitably drag in with them a petty-bourgeois tail, be it long or short. Unless checked and transformed, the fanaticism and one-sidedness of petty-bourgeois revolutionaries can easily engender subjectivism and sectarianism, of which foreign stereotyped writing, or stereotyped Party writing, is one form of expression.
It is not easy to clean out these things and sweep them away. It must be done properly, that is, by taking pains to reason with people. If we reason earnestly and properly, it will be effective. The first thing to do in this reasoning process is to give the patient a good shake-up by shouting at him, “You are ill!” so as to administer a shock and make him break out in a sweat, and then to give him sincere advice on getting treatment.
Let us now analyse stereotyped Party writing and see where its evils lie. Using poison as an antidote to poison, we shall imitate the form of the stereotyped eight-section essay and set forth the following “eight legs”, which might be called the eight major indictments.
The first indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it fills endless pages with empty verbiage. Some of our comrades love to write long articles with no substance, very much like the “foot-bindings of a slattern, long as well as smelly”. Why must they write such long and empty articles? There can be only one explanation; they are determined the masses shall not read them. Because the articles are long and empty, the masses shake their heads at the very sight of them. How can they be expected to read them? Such writings are good for nothing except to bluff the naive, among whom they spread bad influences and foster bad habits. On June 22 last year the Soviet Union began waging a gigantic war against aggression, and yet Stalin’s speech on July 3 was only the length of an editorial in our Liberation Daily. Had any of our gentlemen written that speech, just imagine! It would have run to tens of thousands of words at a minimum. We are in the midst of a war, and we should learn how to write shorter and pithier articles. Although there is as yet no fighting here in Yenan, our troops at the front are daily engaged in battle, and the people in the rear are busy at work. If articles are too long, who will read them? Some comrades at the front, too, like to write long reports. They take pains over writing them and send them here for us to read. But who has the hardihood to read them? If long and empty articles are no good, are short and empty ones any better? They are no good either. We should forbid all empty talk. But the first and foremost task is to throw the long, smelly foot-bindings of the slattern into the dustbin. Some may ask, “Isn’t Capital very long? What are we to do about that?” The answer is simple, just go on reading it. There is a proverb, “Sing different songs on different mountains”; another runs, “Fit the appetite to the dishes and the dress to the figure”. Whatever we do must be done according to actual circumstances, and it is the same with writing articles and making speeches. What we oppose is long-winded and empty stereotyped writing, but we do not mean that everything must necessarily be short in order to be good. True, we need short articles in war time, but above all we need articles that have substance. Articles devoid of substance are the least justifiable and the most objectionable. The same applies to speechmaking; we must put an end to all empty, long-winded speeches.
The second indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it strikes a pose in order to intimidate people. Some stereotyped Party writing is not only long and empty, but also pretentious with the deliberate intention of intimidating people; it carries the worst kind of poison. Writing long-winded and empty articles may be set down to immaturity, but striking a pose to overawe people is not merely immature but downright knavish. Lu Hsun once said in criticism of such people, “Hurling insults and threats is certainly not fighting.” What is scientific never fears criticism, for science is truth and fears no refutation. But those who write subjectivist and sectarian articles and speeches in the form of Party stereotypes fear refutation, are very cowardly, and therefore rely on pretentiousness to overawe others, believing that they can thereby silence people and “win the day”. Such pretentiousness cannot reflect truth but is an obstacle to truth. Truth does not strike a pose to overawe people but talks and acts honestly and sincerely. Two terms used to appear in the articles and speeches of many comrades, one being “ruthless struggle” and the other “merciless blows”. Measures of that kind are entirely necessary against the enemy or against enemy ideology, but to use them against our own comrades is wrong. It often happens that enemies and enemy ideology infiltrate into the Party, as is discussed in Item 4 of the Conclusion of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), Short Course. Against these enemies, we must undoubtedly resort to ruthless struggle and merciless blows, because the scoundrels use these very measures against the Party; if we were tolerant of them, we should fall right into their trap. But the same measures should not be used against comrades who occasionally make mistakes; to them we should apply the method of criticism and self-criticism, the method indicated in Item 5 of the Conclusion of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), Short Course. The comrades who in the past loudly advocated “ruthless struggle” and “merciless blows” against comrades who occasionally made mistakes did so because, for one thing, they failed to make any analysis of the persons they were dealing with and, for another, they were striking a pose in an effort to intimidate. This method is no good, no matter whom you are dealing with. Against the enemy this tactic of intimidation is utterly useless, and with our own comrades it can only do harm. It is a tactic which the exploiting classes and the lumper-proletariat habitually practice, but for which the proletariat has no use. For the proletariat the sharpest and most effective weapon is a serious and militant scientific attitude. The Communist Party lives by the truth of Marxism-Leninism, by seeking truth from facts, by science, and not by intimidating people. Needless to say, the idea of attaining fame and position for oneself by pretentiousness is even more contemptible. In short, when organizations make decisions and issue instructions and when comrades write articles and make speeches, they must without exception depend on Marxist-Leninist truth and seek to serve a useful purpose. This is the only basis on which victory in the revolution can be achieved; all else is of no avail.
The third indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it shoots at random, without considering the audience. A few years ago a slogan appeared on the Yenan city wall which read, “Working men and peasants, unite and strive for victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan!” The idea of the slogan was not at all bad, but the character [kung, meaning working] in [kung jen, meaning working men], was written as , with its perpendicular stroke twisted into a zigzag. How about the character [jen, meaning men]? It became , with three slanting strokes added to its right leg. The comrade who wrote this was no doubt a disciple of the ancient scholars, but it is rather baffling why he should have written such characters in such a place, on the Yenan city wall, at the time of the War of Resistance. Perhaps he had taken a vow that the common people should not read them; it is difficult to explain otherwise. Communists who really want to do propaganda must consider their audience and bear in mind those who will read their articles and slogans or listen to their speeches and their talk; otherwise they are in effect resolving not to be read or listened to by anyone. Many people often take it for granted that what they write and say can be easily understood by everybody, when it is not so at all. How can people understand them when they write and speak in Party stereotypes? The saying “to play the lute to a cow” implies a gibe at the audience. If we substitute the idea of respect for the audience, the gibe is turned against the player. Why should he strum away without considering his audience? What is worse, he is producing a Party stereotype as raucous as a crow, and yet he insists on cawing at the masses. When shooting an arrow, one must aim at the target; when playing the lute, one must consider the listener; how, then, can one write articles or make speeches without taking the reader or the audience into account? Suppose we want to make friends with a person, whoever he may be, can we become bosom friends if we do not understand each other’s hearts, do not know each other’s thoughts? It simply will not do for our propaganda workers to rattle on without investigating, studying and analysing their audience.
The fourth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is its drab language that reminds one of a piehsan. Like our stereotyped Party writing, the creatures known in Shanghai as “little piehsan” are wizened and ugly. If an article or a speech merely rings the changes on a few terms in a classroom tone without a shred of vigour or spirit, is it not rather like a piehsan, drab of speech and repulsive in appearance? If someone enters primary school at seven, goes to middle school in his teens, graduates from college in his twenties and never has contact with the masses of the people, he is not to blame if his language is poor and monotonous. But we are revolutionaries working for the masses, and if we do not learn the language of the masses, we cannot work well. At present many of our comrades doing propaganda work make no study of language. Their propaganda is very dull, and few people care to read their articles or listen to their talk.
Why do we need to study language and, what is more, spend much effort on it? Because the mastery of language is not easy and requires painstaking effort. First, let us learn language from the masses. The people’s vocabulary is rich, vigorous, vivid and expressive of real life. It is because many of us have not mastered language that our articles and speeches contain few vigorous, vivid and effective expressions and resemble not a hale and healthy person, but an emaciated piehsan, a mere bag of bones. Secondly, let us absorb what we need from foreign languages. We should not import foreign expressions mechanically or use them indiscriminately, but should absorb what is good and suits our needs. Our current vocabulary has already incorporated many foreign expressions, because the old Chinese vocabulary was inadequate. For instance, today we are holding a meeting of kanpu [cadres], and the term kanpu is derived from a foreign word. We should continue to absorb many fresh things from abroad, not only progressive ideas but new expressions as well. Thirdly, let us also learn whatever is alive in the classical Chinese language. Since we have not studied classical Chinese hard enough, we have not made full and proper use of much that is still alive in it. Of course, we are resolutely opposed to the use of obsolete expressions or allusions, and that is final; but what is good and still useful should be taken over. Those who are badly infected by stereotyped Party writing do not take pains to study what is useful in the language of the people, in foreign languages, or in classical Chinese, so the masses do not welcome their dry and dull propaganda, and we too have no need for such poor and incompetent propagandists. Who are our propagandists? They include not only teachers, journalists, writers and artists, but all our cadres. Take the military commanders, for instance. Though they make no public statements, they have to talk to the soldiers and have dealings with the people. What is this if not propaganda? Whenever a man speaks to others, he is doing propaganda work. Unless he is dumb, he always has a few words to say. It is therefore imperative that our comrades should all study language.
The fifth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it arranges items under a complicated set of headings, as if starting a Chinese pharmacy. Go and take a look at any Chinese pharmacy, and you will see cabinets with numerous drawers, each bearing the name of a drug–toncal, foxglove, rhubarb, saltpetre … indeed, everything that should be there. This method has been picked up by our comrades. In their articles and speeches, their books and reports, they use first the big Chinese numerals, second the small Chinese numerals, third the characters for the ten celestial stems, fourth the characters for the twelve earthly branches, and then capital A, B, C, D, then small a, b, c, d, followed by the Arabic numerals, and what not! How fortunate that the ancients and the foreigners created all these symbols for us so that we can start a Chinese pharmacy without the slightest effort. For all its verbiage, an article that bristles with such symbols, that does not pose, analyse or solve problems and that does not take a stand for or against anything is devoid of real content and nothing but a Chinese pharmacy. I am not saying that such symbols as the ten celestial stems, etc., should not be used, but that this kind of approach to problems is wrong. The method borrowed from the Chinese pharmacy, which many of our comrades are very fond of, is really the most crude, infantile and philistine of all. It is a formalist method, classifying things according to their external features instead of their internal relations. If one takes a conglomeration of concepts that are not internally related and arranges them into an article, speech or report simply according to the external features of things, then one is juggling with concepts and may also lead others to indulge in the same sort of game, with the result that they do not use their brains to think over problems and probe into the essence of things, but are satisfied merely to list phenomena in ABCD order. What is a problem? A problem is the contradiction in a thing. Where one has an unresolved contradiction, there one has a problem. Since there is a problem, you have to be for one side and against the other, and you have to pose the problem. To pose the problem, you must first make a preliminary investigation and study of the two basic aspects of the problem or contradiction before you can understand the nature of the contradiction. This is the process of discovering the problem. Preliminary investigation and study can discover the problem, can pose the problem, but cannot as yet solve it. In order to solve the problem it is necessary to make a systematic and thorough investigation and study. This is the process of analysis. In posing the problem too, analysis is needed; otherwise, faced with a chaotic and bewildering mass of phenomena, you will not be able to discern where the problem or contradiction lies. But here, by the process of analysis we mean a process of systematic and thorough analysis. It often happens that although a problem has been posed it cannot be solved because the internal relations of things have not yet been revealed, because this process of systematic and thorough analysis has not yet been carried out; consequently we still cannot see the contours of the problem clearly, cannot make a synthesis and so cannot solve the problem well. If an article or speech is important and meant to give guidance, it ought to pose a particular problem, then analyse it and then make a synthesis pointing to the nature of the problem and providing the method for solving it; in all this, formalist methods are useless. Since infantile, crude, philistine and lazy-minded formalist methods are prevalent in our Party, we must expose them; only thus can everybody learn to use the Marxist method to observe, pose, analyse and solve problems; only thus can we do our work well and only thus can our revolutionary cause triumph.
The sixth indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it is irresponsible and harms people wherever it appears. All the offenses mentioned above are due partly to immaturity and partly to an insufficient sense of responsibility. Let us take washing the face to illustrate the point. We all wash our faces every day, many of us more than once, and inspect ourselves in the mirror afterwards by way of “investigation and study” (loud laughter), for fear that something may not be quite right. What a great sense of responsibility! If we wrote articles and made speeches with the same sense of responsibility, we would not be doing badly. Do not present what is not presentable. Always bear in mind that it may influence the thoughts and actions of others. If a man happens not to wash his face for a day or two, that of course is not good, and if after washing he leaves a smudge or two, that too is not so pleasing, but there is no serious danger. It is different with writing articles or making speeches; they are intended solely to influence others. Yet our comrades go about this task casually; this means putting the trivial above the important. Many people write articles and make speeches without prior study or preparation, and after writing an article, they do not bother to go over it several times in the same way as they would examine their faces in the mirror after washing, but instead offhandedly send it to be published. Often the result is “A thousand words from the pen in a stream, but ten thousand li away from the theme”. Talented though these writers may appear, they actually harm people. This bad habit, this weak sense of responsibility, must be corrected.
The seventh indictment against stereotyped Party writing is that it poisons the whole Party and jeopardizes the revolution. The eighth indictment is that its spread would wreck the country and ruin the people. These two indictments are self-evident and require no elaboration. In other words, if stereotyped Party writing is not transformed but is allowed to develop unchecked, the consequences will be very serious indeed. The poison of subjectivism and sectarianism is hidden in stereotyped Party writing, and if this poison spreads it will endanger both the Party and the country.
The aforesaid eight counts are our call to arms against stereotyped Party writing.
As a form, the Party stereotype is not only unsuitable for expressing the revolutionary spirit but is apt to stifle it. To develop the revolutionary spirit it is necessary to discard stereotyped Party writing and instead to adopt the Marxist-Leninist style of writing, which is vigorous, lively, fresh and forceful. This style of writing has existed for a long time, but is yet to be enriched and spread widely among us. When we have destroyed foreign stereotyped writing and stereotyped Party writing, we can enrich our new style of writing and spread it widely, thereby advancing the Party’s revolutionary cause.
The Party stereotype is not only confined to articles and speeches, but is also found in the conduct of meetings. “1. Opening announcement; 2. report; 3. discussion; 4. conclusions; and 5. adjournment.” If this rigid procedure is followed at every meeting, large or small, everywhere and every time, is not that another Party stereotype? When “reports” are made at meetings they often go as follows: “1. the international situation; 2. the domestic situation; 3. the Border Region; and 4. our own department”; and the meetings often last from morning till night, with even those having nothing to say taking the floor, as though they would let the others down unless they spoke. In short, there is a disregard for actual conditions and deadly adherence to rigid old forms and habits. Should we not correct all these things too?
Nowadays many people are calling for a transformation to a national, scientific and mass style. That is very good. But “transformation” means thorough change, from top to bottom and inside out. Yet some people who have not made even a slight change are calling for a transformation. I would therefore advise these comrades to begin by making just a little change before they go on to “transform”, or else they will remain entangled in dogmatism and stereotyped Party writing. This can be described as having grandiose aims but puny abilities, great ambition but little talent, and it will accomplish nothing. So whoever talks glibly about “transformation to a mass style” while in fact he is stuck fast in his own small circle had better watch out, or some day one of the masses may bump into him along the road and say, “What about all this ‘transformation’, sir? Can I see a bit of it, please?” and he will be in a fix. If he is not just prating but sincerely wants to transform to a mass style, he must really go among the common people and learn from them, otherwise his “transformation” will remain up in the air. There are some who keep clamouring for transformation to a mass style but cannot speak three sentences in the language of the common people. It shows they are not really determined to learn from the masses. Their minds are still confined to their own small circles.
At this meeting copies of A Guide to Propaganda, a pamphlet containing four articles, have been distributed, and I advise our comrades to read and re-read it.
The first piece, composed of excerpts from the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), Short Course, deals with the way Lenin did propaganda work. It describes, among other things, how Lenin wrote leaflets:
Under Lenin’s guidance, the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the first body in Russia that began to unite Socialism with the working-class movement. When a strike broke out in some factory, the League of Struggle, which through the members of its circles was kept well posted on the state of affairs in the factories, immediately responded by issuing leaflets and Socialist proclamations. These leaflets exposed the oppression of the workers by the manufacturers, explained how the workers should fight for their interests, and set forth the workers’ demands. The leaflets told the plain truth about the ulcers of capitalism, the poverty of the workers, their intolerably hard working day of 12 to 14 hours, and their utter lack of rights. They also put forward appropriate political demands.
Take note, “well posted” and “told the plain truth”! Again:
With the collaboration of the worker Babushkin, Lenin at the end of 1894 wrote the first agitational leaflet of this kind and an appeal to the workers of the Semyannikov Works in St. Petersburg who were on strike.
To write a leaflet, you must consult with comrades who are well posted on the state of affairs. It was on the basis of such investigation and study that Lenin wrote and worked.
Every leaflet greatly helped to stiffen the spirit of the workers. They saw that the Socialists were helping and defending them.
Do we agree with Lenin? If we do, we must work in the spirit of Lenin. That is, we must do as Lenin did and not fill endless pages with verbiage, or shoot at random without considering the audience, or become self-opinionated and bombastic.
The second piece is composed of excerpts from Dimitrov’s statements at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International. What did Dimitrov say? He said:
We must learn to talk to the masses, not in the language of book formulas, but in the language of fighters for the cause of the masses, whose every word, whose every idea reflects the innermost thoughts and sentiments of millions.
… the masses cannot assimilate our decisions unless we learn to speak the language which the masses understand.
We do not always know how to speak simply, concretely, in images which are familiar and intelligible to the masses. We are still unable to refrain from abstract formulas which we have learned by rote. As a matter of fact, if you look through our leaflets, newspapers, resolutions and theses, you will find that they are often written in a language and style so heavy that they are difficult for even our Party functionaries to understand, let alone the rank-and-file workers.
Well? Does not Dimitrov put his finger on our weak spot? Apparently, stereotyped Party writing exists in foreign countries as well as in China, so you can see it is a common disease. (Laughter.) In any case, we should cure our own disease quickly in accordance with Comrade Dimitrov’s injunction.
Every one of us must make this a law, a Bolshevik law, an elementary rule:
When writing or speaking always have in mind the rank-and-file worker who must understand you, must believe in your appeal and be ready to follow you! You must have in mind those for whom you rewrite, to whom you speak.
This is the prescription made out for us by the Communist International, a prescription that must be followed. Let it be a law for us!
The third article, selected from the Complete Works of Lu Hsun, is the author’s reply to the magazine The Dipper,discussing how to write. What did Lu Hsun say? Altogether he set forth eight rules of writing, some of which I shall pick out for comment here.
Rule l: “Pay close attention to all manner of things; observe more, and if you have observed only a little, then do not write.”
What he says is, “pay close attention to all manner of things”, not just to one thing or half a thing. He says “observe more”, not just take a look or half a look. How about us? Don’t we often do exactly the opposite and write after having observed only a little?
Rule 2: “Do not force yourself to write when you have nothing to say.”
What about us? Don’t we often force ourselves to write a great deal when it is all too clear that there is nothing in our heads? It is sheer irresponsibility to pick up the pen and “force ourselves to write” without investigation or study.
Rule 4: “After writing something, read it over twice at least, and do your utmost to strike out non-essential words, sentences and paragraphs, without the slightest compunction. Rather condense the material for a novel into a sketch, never spin out the material for a sketch into a novel.”
Confucius advised, “Think twice”, and Han Yu said, “A deed is accomplished through taking thought.” That was in ancient times. Today matters have become very complicated, and sometimes it is not even enough to think them over three or four times. Lu Hsun said, “Read it over twice at least.” And at most? He did not say, but in my opinion it does no harm to go over an important article more than ten times and to revise it conscientiously before it is published. Articles are the reflection of objective reality, which is intricate and complex and must be studied over and over again before it can be properly reflected; to be slipshod in this respect is to be ignorant of the rudiments of writing.
Rule 6: “Do not coin adjectives or other terms that are intelligible to nobody but yourself.”
We have “coined” too many expressions that are “intelligible to nobody”. Sometimes a single clause runs to forty or fifty words and is packed with “adjectives or other terms that are intelligible to nobody”. Many who never tire of professing to follow Lu Hsun are the very ones who turn their backs on him!
The last piece is taken from the report on how to develop a national style of propaganda, which was adopted at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. At that session held in 1938, we said that “any talk about Marxism apart from China’s specific characteristics is only Marxism in the abstract, Marxism in a vacuum”. That is to say, we must oppose all empty talk about Marxism, and Communists living in China must study Marxism by linking it with the realities of the Chinese revolution.
The report said:
Foreign stereotypes must be abolished, there must be less singing of empty, abstract tunes, and dogmatism must be laid to rest; they must be replaced by the fresh, lively Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love. To separate internationalist content from national form is the practice of those who do not understand the first thing about internationalism. We, on the contrary, must link the two closely. In this matter there are serious errors in our ranks which should be conscientiously overcome.
The abolition of foreign stereotypes was demanded in that report, yet some comrades are still promoting them. Less singing of empty, abstract tunes was demanded, yet some comrades are obstinately singing more. The demand was made that dogmatism be laid to rest, yet some comrades are telling it to get out of bed. In short, many people have let this report which was adopted at the Sixth Plenary Session go in one ear and out of the other, as if wilfully opposed to it.
The Central Committee has now made the decision that we must discard stereotyped Party writing, dogmatism and the like once and for all, and that is why I have come and talked at some length. I hope that comrades will think over and analyse what I have said and that each comrade will also analyse his own particular case. Everyone should carefully examine himself, talk over with his close friends and the comrades around him whatever he has clarified and really get rid of his own defects.
2. Opposition to stereotyped writing, whether old or new, runs all through Lu Hsun’s works. The foreign stereotype was developed after the May 4th Movement by some shallow bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intellectuals and, disseminated by them, existed for a long time among revolutionary cultural workers. In a number of essays, Lu Hsun fought against the foreign stereotype as found in their ranks and condemned it in these terms:
A clean sweep should be made of all stereotyped writings, whether old or new…. For instance, it is also a kind of stereotype if all one can do is to “hurl insults”, “threaten” or even “pass sentence” and merely copy old formulas and apply these indiscriminately to every fact, instead of specifically and concretely using formulas derived from science to interpret the new facts and phenomena which emerge every day. (“A Reply to Chu Hsiu-hsia’s Letter”, appended to “Giving the Show Away”.)
8. The Dipper was a monthly published in 1931 and 1932 by the League of Chinese Left-Wing Writers. “In Reply to the Question Put by The Dipper” isincluded in the collection Two Hearts (Lu Hsun, Complete Works, Chin. ed., Vol. IV).
10. Han Yu (768-824) was a famous Chinese writer of the Tang Dynasty. In his essay “The Scholar’s Apologia” he wrote, “A deed is accomplished through taking thought and fails through lack of thought.”